State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia

In Memoriam: Bill Smith shaped Georgia’s lawyer discipline system

February 6, 2020
By Darrell Sutton

Daily Report

On Jan. 23, Georgia lost a dedicated servant of the legal profession in our state, Bill Smith. We are all left saddened by his loss.

Bill became a member of the State Bar of Georgia in 1965. Over the 55 years that followed, he dedicated himself to serving the Bar, first as a member of its Board of Governors and Executive Committee. Then, in 1984, Bill became the Bar’s general counsel, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2009.  

Employing his unique diligence, innovation and progressive leadership, Bill shaped the Bar’s lawyer disciplinary system. Ensuring that the system served the profession and the public, Bill streamlined the grievance process, pioneering the concept of Grievance Counsel, which sped the review and disposition of consumer grievances. He also instituted a “Helpline” so Bar members could preemptively obtain advice about ethics issues. And he complemented this with an extensive outreach program, traveling the state to provide Georgia’s lawyers the concise and practical ethics advice for which he was renowned. 

So well respected in the field of lawyer ethics was Bill that he was elected president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, holding that position in 1996-97. In part because of his national reputation as an expert in professional responsibility, Bill helped successfully wage the campaign that culminated in Georgia’s adoption of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Responsibility in 2000.

Though Bill’s tenure as general counsel ended in 2009, his service to the Bar did not. He remained on the Bar staff, serving as ethics counsel. Additionally, his service on the Bar’s International Trade in Legal Services Committee helped Georgia become the titan in international business that it is today.

As great as Bill’s professional accomplishments were, even greater was his marriage to Dot and his love and unwavering devotion to her and their two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandson.

The State Bar of Georgia, indeed the entire legal profession in Georgia, is better because of Bill Smith. We will remember him fondly and miss him greatly. And each time we think of him, we will remember his challenge to each of us: practice ethically, responsibly, and with a humble respect for the power of the legal system. 

Darrell Sutton
President, State Bar of Georgia